Smartphones

The 10 elite smartphones of 2010

With the rise of Android, the reboot of BlackBerry, and the redesigned iPhone, 2010 can rightly be called the year of the smartphone. Here are the best devices of the year.

With the rise of Android, the reboot of BlackBerry, and the redesigned iPhone, 2010 can rightly be called the year of the smartphone. After reviewing nearly all of the top devices, here is my countdown of the best devices of the year.

Slideshow

Slideshow: The 10 best smartphones of 2010

10. BlackBerry Torch

BlackBerry came under intense pressure in 2010 from the rapid growth of iPhone and Android. The smartphone incumbent fired back with the release of the BlackBerry 6 OS and a new form factor with a slide-down keyboard in the BlackBerry Torch. The device is a bit underpowered, the OS isn't a huge step forward, and overall it hasn't been enough to stem the losses to Apple and Google. But, there are still a lot of BlackBerry fans out there -- not to mention all of the enterprises locked into BlackBerry -- and for them, the Torch is now the pre-eminent device on the market.

9. Motorola Droid 2

This shows how much progress the smartphone market has made in one year. Last year, I would have ranked the original Motorola Droid and the Apple iPhone 3GS as the two best smartphones on the market. This year, the Droid got a very nice upgrade but still struggled to make the top 10. Still, due to its increased specs, solid build quality, and very usable form factor, the Droid 2 belongs on this list. Also, don't miss its cousins, the Droid Pro and the Droid 2 Global.

8. HTC Incredible

With much the same innards as the Google Nexus One (although not nearly as strong of a build quality), the HTC Incredible was a consolation prize for those who had been salivating for the Nexus One on Verizon. Unfortunately, Google and Verizon pulled the plug on those plans and instead HTC offered the Incredible through Verizon with the traditional two-year contract. The Incredible did get one thing that the Nexus One didn't have: HTC's Sense UI. Some viewed that as a bonus over the stock Android OS on the Nexus One, while others saw it as a detractor.

7. Samsung Focus

Microsoft finally got itself back in the smartphone game in 2010 with the launch of Windows Phone 7, and the first widely-available WP7 device was the Samsung Focus, which didn't disappoint. The Focus sported nice hardware specs in an attractive, futuristic form factor (albeit with a lot of plastic, similar to the Galaxy S). And, Windows Phone 7 offered a new take on smartphone UI that is a little but more polished and fluid than Android or BlackBerry, although not quite as finished as the iPhone.

6. Motorola Droid X

Verizon Wireless went all-in on Android in 2010, launching a steady stream of new Android-powered devices throughout the year and replacing BlackBerry with Android as its primary smartphone platform. The Droid X served as Verizon's flagship Android phone, with its huge screen, 8MP camera, enterprise-class hardware, and extensive list of high-end features.

5. HTC Desire

While the HTC Incredible had the same guts as the Nexus One but a much different outer shell, the HTC Desire had similar internals and an outer shell that closely resembled the high quality metal casing on the Nexus One. The Desire quickly became one of the most popular smartphones in Europe and Australia by mid-2010 and has spread to other carriers through the globe since then. Along with the Nexus One and the iPhone 4, the Desire feels like the most substantial and high quality smartphone on the market. You should also keep an eye on the HTC Desire HD and the HTC Desire Z.

4. Samsung Galaxy S

Samsung joined the Android movement with all guns blazing in the middle of 2010 by releasing its line of Galaxy S smartphones in a variety of different form factors (and a confusing array of product names) on all four US wireless carriers and a fleet of international carriers. In the US, the Samsung Vibrant and the Samsung Epic 4G were the most impressive of the Galaxy S phones, but all of the models across the globe have same technology base and generally provide a very good Android experience.

3. Google Nexus One

The first big smartphone of 2010 was the Google Nexus One, launched just after the new year and right before CES 2010. As a product, the long-rumored "Google Phone" wasn't a disappointment. It had excellent build quality (developed by HTC) and ran the stock Android OS, which got all of the latest Android updates directly from Google. However, the phone failed in its larger mission of moving the US telecom market toward the European model of being able to buy phones and wireless service separately. The Nexus One was sold as an unlocked device at full price ($500) through Google's online store. Google was not well prepared to handle customer service and didn't give US consumers enough time to warm up to the idea of buying a full price device. It also never released the promised CDMA version of the Nexus One. Eventually, Google abandoned the product altogether and replaced it in December with the Nexus S, built by Samsung and available under traditional contract with T-Mobile.

2. HTC EVO 4G

The premier Android device of 2010 was the HTC EVO 4G. It was the first major smartphone to break the 4-inch screen barrier. It was the first 4G smartphone in the US. It was the first major smartphone with an 8.0 megapixel camera. It was the first major smartphone to feature a kickstand (for video viewing). I pejoratively called it the "Hummer of smartphones" because of its massive size and the fact that it's such as battery hog, but there's no arguing that the EVO 4G stretched the boundaries of what was possible in a smartphone and forced all of its competitors to play catch-up.

1. Apple iPhone 4

With all of the momentum that was gathering around Android during the first half of 2010, Apple's iPhone 3GS was starting to look pretty stale by mid-year -- especially since it was only a slight upgrade over the iPhone 3G from 2008. Then, Apple unveiled iOS4 and the iPhone 4 and launched itself back to the head of the class with top-quality hardware and a software experience that still outpaces all of its rivals in terms of ease of use, responsiveness, polish, and third-party software. The iPhone 4 antenna problem, which was more severe than Apple acknowledged but a lot less severe than the tech press portrayed it, was a wart for the iPhone 4. It also still lacks the widget capability of Android (and now Windows Phone 7). But, overall, the iPhone 4 remains the gold standard of the smartphone market.

Honorable mentions

  • Motorola Droid Pro
  • HTC HD7
  • Dell Venue Pro
  • T-Mobile G2
  • BlackBerry Bold 9780
  • HTC Aria

Also read

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

110 comments
hugh
hugh

Nokia N8 is far and away the best smartphone of 2010 and your article missed it. In fact you missed Symbian phones entirely. Most of the smartphones in the world run Symbian. Symbian^3 and the N8 are remarkable advances. Best compatibility, most apps, best performance as a phone, pda, & mobile media centre... Clearly you didn't do your homework.

DABowers
DABowers

The problem with Jason's evaluations is that he forgets that first and foremost the smart phone is a phone. We have computers, cameras, video cameras, but for most of us now, the smart phone is our one and only personal phone. Therefore, the quality and coverage of the carrier should weigh in more than the applications and features. So, now that we have eliminated all but the Verizon smartphones . . .

thewolverene
thewolverene

iPhone 4 cannot be at the top. The Android phones are way better. I have used both the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S (international). I would take the Galaxy S over the iPhone in a heartbeat. I don't understand how people like being shackled by Apple...

ben.meltzer
ben.meltzer

these must be top 10 for personal use because only the blackberry has any kind of security for real business use unless business no longer care about secure communications anymore

jjohnson24
jjohnson24

Man...Whenever I read these "Best Of" I think that Jason writes to just include 1 or 2 phones of each of the major carriers. Not really the best phones overall. IMO :)

BrianMWatson
BrianMWatson

I disagree with #1 & #2 rankings - they should be swapped. I don't find IOS any easier to use than Android (especially with the SenseUI), in some cases, it's harder. Overall, I'd call that a wash. I'd give iPhone 4 the nod - but only SLIGHTLY - in terms of responsiveness, polish, and apps. But, I give a huge nod to the EVO in terms of functionality - it simply does more than iPhone and in most cases it does it better. I'd also give HTC the nod for putting money where it matters more - in cameras and screen size, rather than outright resolution (Can the human eye even PERCEIVE the difference at that screen size??). I was a very happy iPhone user - until I got an EVO. There's simply no going back. I guess it all boils down to outright functionality mattering more to me than a little more polish and a few apps I don't really care about...

BoJohnson01
BoJohnson01

Life "unlocked" is great. Internationalize your perspective and dump the iPhone bias.

shallmann
shallmann

I'll take my Palm Pre Plus over ANY of these!

bretferris04
bretferris04

The HTC Desire is absolute crap and so is Android especially the latest version with all its bugs and hassles, and I haven't even dropped the thing yet.......I'm longing to reincarnate my HTC TyTN2 with Windows Mobile 6. !! Bret

itadmin
itadmin

Obviously you don't have the Nokia N8 in the US.

itadmin
itadmin

Obviously you don't have the Nokia N8 in the US!

fbandak
fbandak

despite all that i still love my Nokia expressmusic 5800 , it connects to wifi , runs most of the pouplar apps, connects to GPS and has free maps for the whole world with Free Navigation

Haqeem
Haqeem

As the fan of bb, I voted for torch

Daniel Breslauer
Daniel Breslauer

I wouldn't trade in my Nokia E72 for any of them. I don't see why the Nokia E72 (in the US: E73 Mode) shouldn't be on the list. I guess because these are all fun phones, the E72 is a bit more serious.

ctinco
ctinco

I'd put the HTC 4G on top of the iPhone. Just because it's not an iPhone. IMHO

etafner
etafner

Jason, not even an honorable mention to the N900? I know it was released in 2009 but back then was just in a few markets. Only this year it got widespread release. By the way, I see no mention to Nokia's phones at all. May this wasn't the year for Nokia? I don't have 10 smartphones to list, but I bet on the build quality of the iPhone 4, the HTC EVO 4G, Galaxy S (Nexus S?) and the N900. They are all quite phenomenal, each of them with different characteristics.

Editor's Picks